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We are pleased to announce the latest release of iNorthampton which has been updated in response to staff and student feedback. This release builds on many of the requests which have been made, along with providing an excellent foundation for further development.

icon for the University's iNorthampton appGeneral Improvements based on feedback

“Need to be able to personalise the app more”

We have included the ability to define your role when using the app from the first launch. This puts a framework in place to enable us to deliver more personalised information in the future.
You are now able to rearrange the tools on the springboard to move the ones you use most to the top – or just to a new page (currently only available on iOS).


Specific improvements to current tools:

iNorthampton Maps iconYou want updates/improvements to Maps. “And maybe a campus walkthrough, using video or augmented reality”

The main campus maps have been updated and will continue to be updated as new maps are released.

We have made augmented reality functionality available for iNorthampton on the iPhone 4 and 4S. Users of these devices can now lay a map of key buildings on top of the picture they see on screen through their camera lens. This dynamically updates as the phone moves to reflect each building and its distance from the phone.

We are currently looking at a tour to be included in a later release.

You would like “to be able to check your library account and renew books”

The library website has become more ‘mobile friendly’ and you will be directed to this when you have conducted a search. You will see a link termed “View availability on Library Site” which will take you to the library site and allow you to login to check your account and renew books. We’re still looking into ways to bring these links into iNorthampton.

“There should be more content from the Students’ Union”

We have worked with the  Students’ Union to add SU news, the SU Youtube channel and SU photo galleries. You will see these when viewing the ‘news’, ‘videos’ and ‘images’ links from the springboard whilst in either the ‘Current Student’ or ‘Prospective Student’ profiles.

“I want to get notifications/reminders from NILE”

This is now available as part of a separate download of Blackboard Mobile Learn rather than being part of the app at this stage – we hope to bring it into iNorthampton very soon. The separate Mobile Learn App is recommended for iPad users in any case as it has been optimised for this device.

The link to NILE within iNorthampton will still provide mobile access to all of your sites on NILE and has been used in a number of pilot projects in The School of Arts and also Science and Technology.

“Why can’t I get NILE on my Blackberry?”

You can – but you have to get the separate Blackboard Mobile Learn app. It’s not possible to build this into another app on the Blackberry platform as it stands. We’re hoping that upcoming changes to the Blackberry operating system will allow us to improve the iNorthampton experience for Blackberry users.

iNorthampton Timetables iconImprovements to the timetable module – “I don’t want to have to log in every time, and should show more of my timetable when I do”

The iNorthampton link to timetables has been completely redesigned for Phase 2 and now allows:

  • The ability to pick any date in the academic year
  • Timetable location now links to Google Maps to assist with finding the building where room is located.
  • Improved help and advise

“Can we have a tool to report faults in halls?”

A telephone number has been included in the “Get Help” section of iNorthampton , and we are still investigating a more detailed GPS-based solution for a future development (sorry, no dates for this yet).

Suggestions for new features

“Please add bus times / traffic information / parking information / car sharing site / taxi numbers to the app”

Logo for the Northamptonshire County Council mobile appNorthamptonshire County Council have their own app (called NCC) for Android and iPhone, which was developed by staff here at the University. This already has live bus timetables, so we’d recommend you use this if you can. They also supply a text service to send bus times to your mobile. Sadly this does mean that  the NCC won’t let us use the timetable data, but we’re looking at including links to the timetables on the website, as well as to traffic information and the car sharing website.
At present we can’t collect the data for how many parking spaces are free at any one time on site, but we have asked Infrastructure Services to look into this for us.
The University does not have a recommended taxi company, so we won’t be supplying taxi numbers, sorry.

“The app should include email, and access to file storage”

We took the decision not to include email, as smartphones already include a tool to integrate this. File storage is a little more complex, as iOS devices in particular do not have an accessible folder structure where files are stored. There are a few web-based alternatives available though. Apart from files in NILE, you can also access documents stored on the web (or in cloud services like Google docs or Windows Live) through a mobile browser.

“It would be great to include links to other apps that are useful for learning”

We didn’t want to bulk out the app with these, as they may not all be relevant to all users. However when we find useful apps, we will be adding recommendations to our LearnTech blog. If you’d like to make a recommendation, or write a guest post, just let us know!

“Opening times and menus for the restaurants would be good, and links to offers from Greggs!”

We’re looking at adding ‘places of interest’ to the maps in phase 3, and this will include all the eating places, hopefully along with opening times and menus. If you want offers from Greggs, they will give them to you – but only in exchange for a like from your Facebook account.

“A tool which shows the nearest free PC would be good”

We are still awaiting further development in this area and will update iNorthampton when this becomes available.

……and finally

We are also pleased to announce that Northampton’s experience with iNorthampton has also featured in an international Blackboard marketing campaign.

The app has been downloaded over 13,600 times during the past year.

If you have further suggestions to share, they are always welcome. Send them to the team at

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Being able to add your own notes to PDF files can be really useful, whether they are lecture notes you want to add your own thoughts to, documents or journal articles you have downloaded for your own research,  or student or collaborative papers that you need to feed back on. There are many different options available for this. Here are a few we found.

iOS (Apple) apps

neu.Annotate is a free app that will allow you to open a PDF file (e.g. from email, the web or a cloud storage service like Dropbox), and annotate it using typed text or freehand annotation in a range of colours, as well as adding shapes, stamps and images. You can even add whole new pages, and annotate those too. The annotations are saved as part of the PDF, which can then be sent out by email or saved back to Dropbox.

A marked-up PDF file in iAnnotateiAnnotate PDF is an advanced tool with lots of options, including the usual highlighting and annotation. It can be set up to sync with Dropbox, but also has it’s own sync tool, called Aji PDF service, that allows you to set up a live link to a folder directly on your PC or Mac. This allows you to batch download original files, and then batch upload your annotated versions.

There is also an iAnnotate Lite version of this app for Android.

GoodReader is an app that can handle many different types of files. It’s really a file management tool, that allows you to access PDFs, Office and iWork files, images, video and even archived web pages on your iOS device. It can collect together files from a range of sources, including Google docs, Dropbox and iCloud, and let you read, organise, annotate (PDF and txt only) and re-upload them. It’s pretty complicated, as apps go, but if your files are a bit all over the place, this might be a good one for you. The PDF annotation  here is kind of a bonus.

Android apps

Again, there are a number of options available. Features vary, but all of the following will allow you to mark up, type on and highlight PDFs, as well as fill in PDF forms. In order of price at time of writing:

  • ezPDF Reader includes text-to-speech and the ability to view audio and video files if they are embedded in the PDF. It also has a plugin to integrate with Google docs.
  • Repligo Reader allows you to annotate and send PDF files via email, Bluetooth, Dropbox and Evernote.
  • qPDF also allows you to send files via Bluetooth and sync files in Dropbox.

A note on workflows

Options for sharing a PDF file from an iPadIf you’re planning to annotate a number of files, it’s worth thinking through how you will transfer these to and from the device. Many of the apps listed above will allow you to download files from (and sometimes upload or sync them to) cloud storage services, like Dropbox or Google docs. This saves having to attach individual files to email, but these services also have their own limitations.

We recommend, particularly when working with documents relating to student assessment, that you transfer the files directly between your device and a University computer wherever possible, rather than using a third party cloud storage solution. You may be able to do this wirelessly, using WebDAV or FTP, otherwise you may need to connect your device to the computer. With an iOS device, you can transfer annotated files via the iTunes software for all of the apps mentioned above. If you have an Android device, you may be able to connect it via USB as you would a memory stick, and batch transfer your files.

If you’d like any help on the above, don’t forget you can always contact the LT team.

With thanks to Dr. James Xue, Lecturer in Computing, for the iAnnotate recommendation.

Disclaimer: these posts aim to recommend functionality, not particular products or services. The app world changes fast, and any third party app may not be available forever. Always make sure you have a back-up option.


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Using mobile devices can give you a lot more freedom in how and where you work. There is a huge range of apps available to help you deliver a presentation (or lecture), as this is a common task in the business world as well as in education. The apps cover everything from preparation to delivery, the downside being that as these are often aimed at the business market, they can be expensive. Here are some of the ones we’ve come across that you might find useful.

Creating/editing your presentation

The slickest choice for this must surely be Keynote, for iOS (Apple) devices. You can import existing presentations into the app, via email or cloud storage services like Dropbox – it will accept presentations created in Keynote (on the Mac) or Powerpoint (on a PC). You can also create a presentation from scratch, including images, tables, charts and animations. It even has an area for presenter notes. If you have an iPad 2, when connected  to a video output the presenter display will allow you to see both slide and notes, and your audience will only see the slides.

For Android, Google docs seems sadly lacking in the absence of a presenter view for Google presentations. However, there are other options – QuickOffice or Documents To Go will both allow you to display Powerpoint files on your device for free. Both these apps have Pro (paid) options that will also let you create and edit presentations on the device.

Delivering your presentation

If you want to use your device to deliver the presentation, there are a few different options to consider. You can connect the device directly, using a VGA or HDMI adaptor. This is the easiest option, but it does restrict your movement (which can defeat the point of using the device in the first place). Alternatively, you can connect your device to the presenting computer using wireless or bluetooth:

  • You may want to use your device as a simple presenting tool, to control navigation through the slides. In this case, apps like i-Clickr for iOS and Presenter for Android should do the trick.
  • If you have the presentation on your device, there are also apps that will allow you to transmit it to the presenting computer. AirSketch for the iPad will allow you to project a whiteboard, images or PDFs (so convert your presentation first), and Scatterslides for Android works in a similar way for Powerpoint slides (note this requires a free client to be installed on the presenting computer).
  • If you want to get really clever, you can even use a remote desktop application to run the presentation from your own computer via your mobile device, thus avoiding any embarrassing software version problems or incompatibilities. Apps like Splashtop and TeamViewer can do this for you, as long as you have a reliable connection.

The downside to the wireless connection method is that these apps generally need to be on the same wireless connection as the presenting computer – and to be able to find each other on it. This works fine on wireless that uses keys to authenticate, but often won’t work on secure wireless networks that use a browser login. If you’re planning on trying any of these, we strongly recommend a test run before the day of the presentation.

If you have any comments on the information above, or you’d like to recommend other apps that help you with learning or teaching, please feel free to add a comment or to email the team at

Disclaimer: these posts aim to recommend functionality, not particular products or services. The app world changes fast, and any third party app may not be available forever. Always make sure you have a back-up option.


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Tablets seem to be the new ‘must have’ device, and a few staff have been asking us for our thoughts on these. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend a particular device, we do have a couple you can try out, and the thoughts below might be of some help.

What are they good at?

Tablets are great for carrying around. They’re small, and lightweight, and as a general rule, start-up time and battery life are both much better than a laptop. They are great for on-the-go tasks, like checking email and browsing the web. The point to remember though, is that they usually use a mobile (cut-down) version of the operating system, similar to that used in smartphones, which means that they can’t run the same type of software as a laptop or desktop computer. The software usually comes in the form of ‘apps’, which have different functionality to their desktop counterparts.

What are they bad at?

This varies between models. They usually have a mobile (cut-down) web browser installed by default, which can struggle with web pages that are not designed for mobile use. Famously, the iPad won’t play any Flash content in the default web browser (Safari), so watching video content on the web can be tricky unless there is “an app for that” (for example, there are native apps for Youtube and BBC iPlayer). It can also be tricky to transfer files between your desktop computer and your tablet, unless (for the iPad) you are an expert iTunes user, or (for Android) you use other ‘cloud’ applications to store your work online (such as Google docs).

A quick note about browsers: if you have a tablet, you don’t have to use the default browser that is already installed. Other browsers are available to download, although they may not be free.

Common tasks for University staff

We put some of our tablets through their paces to see if they could support some of the common tasks staff carry out using technology. The findings are below. If there are some more key tasks that you would like us to try out for you, please add your suggestions as comments on this post.

Task iPad (Apple) Motorola Xoom (Android)
Syncing work email (Exchange) Works fine, including calendars and contacts. New appointments can be added but can’t be set to private. Email, calendars and contacts all work fine.
Editing documents Has a basic Notes app already installed, that allows you to type text and email it to yourself.
The iWork suite of apps allows you to work with Word, Powerpoint/Keynote and Excel, and document transfer is done via iTunes or cloud storage services.
Google docs can be accessed via the app or the browser, although editing is fiddly.
Doesn’t come with a basic note-taking app, although Freenote is a good one you can download, that also saves handwritten notes.
Documents, spreadsheets etc. can be imported/exported via Google docs, although disappointingly the editing functionality in the browser/app is not much better than in the Apple app.
Using NILE* (Blackboard 9.1) NILE can be accessed through the browser, but editing and adding new items is fiddly as it can only be done with the Visual Editor switched off. Box pages display slightly strangely in the browser. You can add and edit items, and type using the Visual Editor, but it struggles applying settings from pop-up menus (e.g. text colours).
Using Turnitin and GradeMark Originality reports can be viewed, but navigation doesn’t always work properly. Commenting in GradeMark does not work. As with the iPad.
Presenting The iPad 2 supports video output, so as long as you have the right connector, you can plug it in to the VGA lead on a lectern (as you would with a laptop), or the HDMI lead for your HD TV, and demo whatever you like.
The iPad 1 only supports video output from certain apps, like Keynote.
Motorola haven’t as yet produced a VGA connector for the Xoom, although it does have HDMI output via the mini-HDMI socket. Apparently it is possible to adapt this to VGA output – see this forum on the Motorola site for more.
Adding blog posts (WordPress) Works in the browser, but better in the (free) app, even though it does display the HTML version rather than WYSIWYG. Slow and clumsy in the browser – again better in the app.
Reading e-books & journals** Online journals: the Metalib search pages work fine, although the fact that it opens everything in a new window can mean you run out of browser windows quickly (you can only have 9 open at a time). Other useful apps include EBSCOhost, iBase (searches open access repositories, arXiv (e-prints for science subjects) and iScholarReader (Google Scholar app).
Library eBooks: Dawsonera – read online works fine, but it doesn’t seem to want to download for reading later. Safari Tech books online works fine, although watch it for it locking you out as the browser has trouble with session IDs. Netlibrary books also work for online reading, although these will soon be moving to EBSCOhost.
Other eBooks/files: The iBooks app (already installed) allows you to download from the iTunes bookstore, and EPUB/PDF files can be transferred via iTunes. There is also a free Kindle app available.
Online journals: Metalib works fine, and opens new tabs, which is more manageable than the iPad browser. There are also Android apps for arXiv and gScholarReader (Google Scholar).
Library eBooks: Dawsonera books do not display in the browser (blank pages), and the download option doesn’t seem to work either. Safari Tech books load ok, but scrolling is tricky. The Netlibrary reader also displays as a blank page.
Other eBooks/files: The Xoom can read EPUB & PDF files, using an eBook reader app such as Aldiko (files can be transferred via USB). There is also a Kindle app available.
Watching video Major video streaming sites Youtube and Vimeo will play in the browser, however Flash-based video (on sites like the BBC and the University’s Video Library Server) will not.
A number of apps are available for streaming, including BBC iPlayer.
Video files can be transferred and played using the VLC app.
Plays Flash-based video, so BBC video and the University VLS work fine, as do Youtube and Vimeo.
Video files can be transferred directly via USB. As yet there isn’t an official VLC app, but QQPlayer seems to handle most file types ok.
Taking Photos/Video*** The iPad 2 comes with a camera that takes VGA quality stills (0.69MP). There are two options for video, with VGA quality on the front camera, or HD (720p) on the back.
There is an iMovie app but it’s only for the iPad 2, and costs £2.99.
The Xoom has a 5MP still camera, which will take better photos than the iPad, although they don’t always look as clear on the screen.
Also shoots 720p video, and comes with an editing app (Film Studio).

*more information on accessing NILE on mobile devices will be coming soon, watch this space for more details…

**we also have a Kindle available for loan – if all you want to do is read, then this might be more suitable for you (and cheaper). You may also be interested in the Web Tools for Researchers guide.

***If the camera is your thing, have a look at this comparison by PC World, or this one from TechCrunch.

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